IoT EMC Radiated Emissions Investigations

A customer requested some support with one of their products, an IoT bridge device that takes various sensors and provides telemetry back to a central server using a GSM module. Some of the radio pre-compliance spurious emissions testing had suggested there might be some issues at certain frequencies.

After a couple of hours of radiated emissions measurements in the anechoic chamber and some bench work with some near field probes, I’d developed a pretty good idea of what was going on in terms of where the emissions were coming from and what their radiating mechanisms were.

Interestingly, there was a common theme to all of these emissions…

These features are common to a wide range of similar devices so some notes and a simple drawing (oddly I find sketching like this a good way to relax!) are presented in the hope it will give you some ideas about where your radiated emissions might be coming from.

The sketch shows a keypad board, a CPU board and a battery pack. Some other information is missing to permit a simpler drawing. All of these boards below sandwich together nicely into a plastic case which was the starting point for the investigation.

The problem frequencies identified were a 300MHz narrowband spike and a 250MHz broadband hump. Usually when I see broadband I think “power supply noise” and narrowband I think “digital noise”.

IoT module - emc radiated emissions analysis

Let’s take a wander around the device.

Capacitive plate near field probing around (A) showed higher than background levels of 300MHz noise around the front panel button board. Since this was a “dumb” board, the noise was probably coming from the main CPU board. The noise emanating from the cable (B) was not appreciably higher but when approaching the CPU/memory the noise increased, the clock line between the memory device and CPU being the highest.

Two possibilities were that there was crosstalk on the PCB at (C) or perhaps inside the CPU itself but without getting into more complex analysis the exact cause is not known. Apart from the power lines, there was no extra HF filtering on the data lines, just a series resistor on the I/O lines of the CPU. The addition of a small capacitor (e.g. 47pF, either 0402 or an array) on each line to circuit ground forms an RC filter to roll off any unwanted HF emissions like this. I generally advocate making provision for such devices on the PCB but not fitting them unless required – better to provision for and not need than to require a PCB re-spin later in the development cycle.

Moving the near field probe around the bottom of the case where the battery lives (D) showed the broad 250MHz hump present on the battery. Unplugging the battery pack made the emissions drop by 10dBuV/m and measuring with a high bandwidth passive probe showed broadband noise present on the outputs of the battery charger (E) from the switching converter. Some low-ohm ferrite beads in series with the battery terminals will help keep this noise on board and prevent common mode emissions from the battery and cables (F).

Lastly, the antenna was unplugged and some other broadband noise was found on the cable (G) at 360MHz, this time from the main 5V DC/DC converter on the main PCB.

 

Conclusion

So what is the common theme? All the radiation problems stem from cables connected to the main PCB. As soon as you add a cable to a system you are creating a conductor with a poorly controlled return path or “antenna” as they are sometimes known in the EMC department!

Treat any cable or connector leaving your PCB as an EMC hazard. You have less control over the HF return paths in the cable environment than you do on the PCB. Apply appropriate HF filtering to the lines on the cable and remember that even a shielded cable can cause problems.

Sometimes, like the antenna cable, there’s not a lot you can do about it other than practice good design partitioning to keep noisy sources away from the cable and to apply a ferrite core around the cable if it becomes a problem during testing.

 

I hope you found this useful and that it has given you some pointers for looking at your own designs with a new perspective.

 

Use of an LCD back panel as an image plane to reduce radiated emissions

EMC Radiated Emissions Fault Finding Case Study

I’m really happy to have one of my blog articles featured on Interference Technology.

Problem solving and fault finding EMC problems, especially radiated emissions, is one of my specialities and oddly enough is one of the facets of my job that I enjoy the most. After a successful exercise in helping a customer out with their product, getting the chance to write about it and share it with you is a real bonus.

Fixing radiated emissions is at it’s most challenging when the scope for modification to the unit are limited by the fact there are significant stock of PCBs or components that would require scrapping and redesign. Finding a way to use the existing stock was key in this example as the customer had significant time and money invested into the project. Thankfully I was able to help them out.

Head on over to Interference Technology and have a read through – I even put pictures in! Hopefully it will give you an idea of how I work and the sort of EMC issues that I can help you solve.

Case Study: Poor PC Board Layout Causes Radiated Emissions

 

Case Study: AC Mains Input EMC and Safety Troubleshooting

Many of the customers I deal with are technically savvy and extremely good at designing innovative and clever devices. I’m always learning something new every time I get a different product through the door. Unfortunately it isn’t practical or possible to be good at everything and EMC expertise, especially when it comes to fault finding and problem solving, can be hard to come by. This is where I come in.

I’ve been helping a good customer on a product that they’ve been working with that had some EMC troubles on a prototype design. It had originally been taken to a different test lab where they had performed a mains conducted emissions measurement showing a clear failure at low frequencies. There were a couple of other hard copy scans supplied where a capacitor value had been adjusted to try and improve the emissions but with no effect.

In need of some expertise, they got in touch.

Mains Conducted Emissions Testing

I received the product and quickly set it up in our screened room to perform some EN 55014-1 conducted emissions measurements. Below you can see the first scan result, showing a failure of up to 10dB on the Quasi Peak detector. There’s clearly some room for improvement so let’s analyse the problem and see what we can do.

mains conducted emissions - before

Our starting point for the improvement work

Lower frequency mains conducted emissions are not uncommon and are usually caused by differential mode voltage noise. This is generated by current flowing through the impedance presented by the primary side bulk decoupling and switching circuit. The switching frequencies of the power supply controller are usually in the 30 kHz to 250 kHz range putting it (and it’s harmonics) right in this lower frequency (sub 1MHz) range for this test.

Improving differential mode noise can be done in a number of ways. Removing the noise at source is the approach I advocate, in this case this can be achieved by reducing the impedance of the rectified mains bulk decoupling capacitor. A review of the BOM showed that the units had been built with some general purpose electrolytic capacitors with a relatively high impedance. So the first thing that I did was to swap out these parts for ones from the Nichicon PW series of low impedance electrolytic capacitors.

after fitting low impedance bulk decoupling

Changing the electrolytics to a low impedance variety

The result: a big improvement on the QP measurements, bringing some of them down by around 10dB. The improvement on the Average detector readings was less pronounced, especially around 550 kHz where only a 3dB improvement was registered. It is likely that the HF impedance of the decoupling capacitor is still a problem. One option is to apply a suitably rated high frequency decoupling capacitor in parallel with the bulk decoupling capacitor. The other option is to improve the filtering on the AC mains input to prevent the noise from escaping back down the line.

Filtering for differential mode noise can be provided in several ways. The most common method is to make an LC filter from the leakage inductance of a common mode choke paired with a Class X safety capacitor between Live and Neutral. The leakage inductance is in the tens of micro-Henries whereas the common mode inductance is often a couple of magnitudes larger up in the tens of milli-Henries. Simplistically (there are other effects to consider) a 10uH leakage inductance paired with a 470nF capacitor will roll off frequencies above 100 kHz. Well, let’s try that!

now with added class X cap

Now with an additional 470nF Class X capacitor soldered across the mains input terminals

Performance is improved by around 5dB across a wide range of frequencies; indeed the improvement can be seen up to 15 MHz. This leaves a margin of around 2dB to the average limit line which is perhaps a bit close for comfort and I would generally recommend looking at a little more filtering to bring this down a bit further to allow for variations in production and tolerance of components. Options for further improvements could include a second Class X capacitor to form a pi filter but because of the low impedance of the differential mode noise this approach might not be as effective. Adding some inductance to form an LC filter with the bulk decoupling capacitor is another approach.

However this proved the case to the customer for a PCB redesign to make space for the larger bulk decoupling capacitors and at least one Class X capacitor.

Surge and Safety

Following on from this work, at the customers request, I carried out a full suite of EMC tests on the product to EN 55014-1 (emissions) and 55014-2 (immunity). One thing that I noticed was the sound of an electrical breakdown during the application of a differential mode surge test. Taking off the outer casing, I managed to catch the below arc on camera during a 1kV surge event.

Arcing caught on camera

Snap, crackle and pop.

The arc appeared around the resistor; desoldering and removing it from the PCB showed a couple of points where there was arcing between the resistor body and the trace running underneath it.

Arcind damage to the PCb to surface

Arcing evidence on the PCB

This problem has occurred because the resistor R1 is in series with the Live phase and the trace underneath is connected to the Neutral phase. When mounted flush to the PCB normally, the resistor has only its outer insulation between live and neutral. Reviewing the relevant electrical safety standard for the product requires a minimum clearance (air gap) for basic and functional insulation is 1.5mm. This can be achieved by standing the resistor up on spacers to keep it away from the PCB but then it starts to approach VDR1 and Q4 meaning a considered manufacturing approach is required. This was another incentive for redesigning the PCB.

The take-away lesson from this finding is to consider the Z axis / third dimension when reviewing a PCB as it can be easy to see things purely in two dimensions!

I hope you found this case study useful and that it has given you some tools with which you can improve your designs.

If you need some EMC fault finding expertise then get in touch: I’d be happy to help and I love a good challenge!